Tag Archives: Neighborhood Transformation

A Great Way to Start to Get to Know Your Neighbors

Efforts to rebuild the neighborhoods are hampered by the fact that new residents moving in, whether tenants or homeowners, do not know each other and have no knowledge of past revitalization efforts. “Many work two or three jobs to get by,” notes Nelson Butten, “and others work and go to school. They have no time to meet their neighbors.” Often no structure remains within the neighborhood to foster their involvement. The social fabric of communities, already damaged by foreclosures, is further frayed when people lack the time and opportunity to build relationships. Yet without a shared vision of what they like and what needs to be changed, residents will have a difficult time rebuilding neighborhoods hurt by the foreclosure crisis.

If you think about it, hospitality may be the most ancient and universal of community-building strategies. Throughout time and in all cultures, it has been recognized that there is no greater act of compassion and fellowship than to welcome others to share your shelter and food.

Given the isolation and fear that tends to keep neighbors from neighbors, this is perhaps more true today than it has been for many years. Food sets the mood in a NeighborCircle by saying, ‘not only are you welcome in my home, you are someone with whom I would like to break bread.’ For those who love to cook and entertain, the NeighborCircle provides a great oppor¬tunity to display talent and creativity. Many of our hosts have created elabo¬rate meals for Circle guests, but simple meals or quality take-out have worked just as well. Preparing and serving the food for the Circle should not be a stressful event, so unless the

They begin with a resident volunteering to host a NeighborCircle in his or her own home. Over the course of a month a group of 8 to 10 families will come together at the host’s home three times for dinner and conversation. The meetings are assisted by one or two facilitators trained by Lawrence Community Works.

At the first meeting, residents simply get to know each other over a meal provided by the host. They talk about the different places they have lived in their lifetime and put a pin on the map as they talk about these places. The strategy acknowledges that personal relationships are foundational to efforts to build community. In Lawrence’s diverse neighborhoods, racial, ethnic and economic differences act as barriers between residents, so a special effort must be made to create a safe place where they can come together. The facilitator may ask questions related to where they lived.

At the second meeting participants discuss what they like about their neighborhood and what they want to see changed. They begin by brainstorming ideas and issues and must emerge from the meeting with one or two things they want to work on. They meet a third time to develop strategies to address the priorities agreed to in the second meeting. The 2nd and 3rd meetings are what NT teaches as part of mobilizing a neighborhood. Some NeighborCircles continue getting together after their first three meetings in order to work through their issues. Others do not.

The facilitators are a key component of the NeighborCircles’ success. They are typically volunteers who receive a small stipend for their assistance. The facilitators receive training on facilitation techniques as well as in the NeighborCircle model. Use of volunteers means that many more NeighborCircles can be organized than Lawrence CommunityWorks staff could do on their own. The facilitators also gain valuable skills that they can use elsewhere, either in their Jobs or in other volunteer interests.


Question and Answer About Urban Society

When one looks at the social issues surrounding us right here in the United States—poverty, crime, lack of solid educational and job opportunities… It is easy to become overwhelmed and intimidated. What could one person, what could I, do as a Christian?

My first impulse is to close my eyes to the outside world, doing my best to create a world of harmony for my family and friends. I donate to good causes on the faint hope that someone else can create a better world. Yet sometimes a voice from within whispers, “Stretch out of your comfort zone and go into your neighborhood as salt and light.” What does Jesus want from me?

What Neighborhood Transformation is
• Going into a community, walking with the people in the community and helping show we are all made in the image of God. It starts with simply developing RELATIONSHIP.
• Then LISTEN. What do the community people want to do? What are their dreams?
• Then HELP THEM make their dreams a reality by:
x Using their assets.
x Doing the work themselves.
x Directing the efforts themselves.
x Starting small with projects such as entertainment or cleanup.
x Following that success with a more ambitious project.
• CONTINUE—stay with the work. You and others will find Jesus right in that neighborhood. People will realize they can transform their neighborhood by working together. We can all be PART OF THE RECONCILATION JESUS IS DOING NOW.
• What Neighborhood Transformation is not
• Not doing for—it is doing with. We are all open to the transforming power of God and we are teaching and listening to each other.
• Not YOUR Agenda. You are helping the community find God’s plan for them as they discover it themselves.
• NOT a transaction; it is a relationship.
• Not quick, it is long-term. Jesus has been reconciling the world to Himself for 2000 years and is not finished yet. Why would we believe we can rush transformation?
• Not you alone; it is the community. You focus on teaching the community to multiply and grow. They supply the effort.

What Neighborhood Transformation Produces:
• Transformed people—physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally.
• Reconciled people—education improves because parents get involved in their children’s schooling. Blight is removed because people care.
• Cooperating people—producing education and job opportunities.
• Redeemed people—finding Jesus living within them in the neighborhood.
• Giving people—sharing these results with others in additional communities.

These things occur because we, as Jesus’ disciples, follow the way in which He ministered on earth. He lived with people, loved people, and served through creating relationships with people.

What Learned from Churches, Part Two

Reaching not only Urban Poor Neighborhoods But also Middle Class Neighborhoods

Getting church members to work in urban poor neighborhoods makes it harder to raise up local trainers. The churches focus more easily on nearby neighborhoods which most frequently are middle class. Doing projects in the church’s neighborhood makes it easier to motivate the members. However, when working in middle-class neighborhoods, the church members are asked to focus on enhancing assets rather than supplying needs since middle-class neighbors are likely to be of the opinion that they have few needs.

Jesus’ loving concern extends just as surely into middle and upper class neighborhoods. He cares for all. Poverty is more than physical and financial lack. Emotional and spiritual poverty are crippling. There is no place that cannot use the reconciliation and touch of Jesus.

Change Summary:
• Focus the church on its own extended neighborhood with the intent of establishing relationships with and being a blessing to those neighbors.
• Get to know the neighbors. Begin walking the neighborhood regularly, greeting and meeting people.
• See “Starting Outreach in the Neighborhood” below.

Relationships – The Starting Point
Relationships are critical in rural CHE programs but even more so urban neighborhood settings. Very few people know each others names, let alone anything about each other. Trust and willingness to help are very limited. Neighbors are isolated from each other partially out of choice, partially from lack of opportunity. What is more, they feel powerless to overcome the isolation.

Motivating people in church to reach out to the neighborhood where they live is a challenge which few churches have considered since the concept of transforming a middle-class neighborhood is a novel one. Building relationships – neighbors knowing neighbors – is the place to start.

Change Summary:
• Recognize that this approach can work in a variety of ways with the result that neighbors become aware of and learn to trust the neighboring church down the street.
• First the church needs to map all church members and define neighborhoods around groups of people who live near to each other.
• Have a desert meeting for all the church people in a given neighborhood, challenging them to get to know their neighbors
• For next step see Starting Outreach in Your Neighborhood below

Starting Outreach in the Neighborhood
Because most people do not know their neighbors, the first step is getting to know their neighbors in their block on both sides of the street.

Here are some key ways to accomplish this:
• Start walking your neighborhood and greet people when you see them, introducing yourself. Learn their names and what house they live in. Make notes later.
• When you see people outside, go greet them.
• Start barbequing on the driveway in front of your house and invite a few nearby to come.
• Invite all the people to come to a neighborhood barbeque. If they offer to bring something, let them but don’t assign things.
• Do block a party, closing off street on the “Local Night Out” which many cities have.
• Ask two questions: ” What do you like about this block?” and “What one thing would you change?”
• If there is an elderly family on the street or a family in need , organize people who are willing to help them.
• As you do these activities learn as much as you can about each person, sharing details about yourself as well.
• Eventually do full Asset Mapping

Starting with the Local Elementary School
Many churches have approached the problem of becoming known in the neighborhood by beginning NT through the local elementary school. This is especially effective in areas where most of the children walk to school.

Here are approaches to the schools which have been effective:
• Set up a meeting with the school principal asking how the neighborhood church members can serve the school. With budget cut backs most principals are willing to accept some help.
• Normally it can start with a school grounds beautification or painting a room. This kind of project allows Group 2 level church members to participate.
• It could involve supplying backpacks at start of the year. If so this it is great opportunity to ask that a parent help in the school once for 2 hours. Principals have found that if a parent comes to school there is an immediate increase in attention span in their child. Therefore, just getting the parents into the school is a positive.
• If Christmas gifts are provided for needy children put them in a school Christmas store where parents choose the gift they want for their child and pay some small amount. If the parents do not have the cash they can substitute a couple of hours as a volunteer in the store.
• Find out if the schools need volunteers to help and then provide members from Group 3 to come to help as volunteers.
• Some churches have done a “Love the Teacher Day” where they provide small gifts for them and perhaps a Starbuck coffee card.
• At some point send the nine-question Asset Mapping Questionnaire home with students. The class with most number of returned questionnaires wins a pizza party. In addition, the children who return their questionnaires get into a drawing for a nice gift.
• In the questionnaire look for what parents want to learn and set up different short classes at the schools taught by neighborhood people of local trainers from the church.

Hope this gives you some idea how to get started doing Neighborhood Transformation. Ways that are simpler and easier to get church members involved.

What We Have Learned from Churches, Part 1

In the last two years we have learned many things about attracting North American churches to Neighborhood Transformation (NT) and facilitating implementation. This has allowed us to make a number of changes in our approach. This will be a two part series. The following is some of what we have learned:

Churches most interested in NT fall into three categories:
1) Churches which are large inter-denominational or Bible churches that have been trying to have impact by doing things for people and yet have seen no transformation. They are ready to try a new approach but need the opportunity to try things in small bites, gaining confidence as they see things work effectively.
2) Organic, neighborhood based churches that are small and multiplying and yet are tentative about NT because of the mistaken belief that it is an “all or nothing” blueprint approach.
3) Wholistic, neighborhood-focused missional churches that are leery of anything that looks like a program.

Recognizing our target churches has led us to underlying changes making it as easy as possible for churches to become involved in NT with the least amount of commitment. They can participate at the level they are willing to start. In addition, it is important to clearly communicate that NT is not a blueprint approach but something that the organic churches can work with in bite sized pieces.

Catalyzing Churches
• The best way to find interested churches is still by word of mouth. Then a five-hour Envisioning Seminar is done to introduce them to NT.
• In a city such as Phoenix where an intermediary organization exists, four-hour Saturday morning seminars are held once a quarter. Topics are selected based on churches’ interest. Currently we have over 14 such seminars such as:
o Neighborhood Organizing
o Identifying assets.
o Reaching neighborhoods through helping them to recognize their history and develop a plan to reach their goals.
• Lead churches to identify a champion who will attend a full NT Training of Trainers (TOT).
• Assist the champion in holding a 14 hour TOT to train local trainers/coaches

Training of the Champion/Master Trainer
It is critical that there be a Master Trainer in each church who can, in turn, train and coach local trainers.
Doing the full NT TOT has not generally been productive in a city unless you have multiple churches that send their champions to be trained.

Change summary:
• Set up NT TOTs, regionally located, where these champions from different cities of the region can be trained in 5 day, complete NT TOTs.
• If multiple, committed churches exist in one city, offer two, 14 hour weekend trainings either back to back or a month or two apart.

Training Local Trainers
Our initial schedule of six Saturday Trainings of Local Trainers over a 24 month period was too heavy a commitment for a newly involved church. There is a need to make it easier for churches recruit local trainers at the level people are willing to participate.

Change summary:
• Instead of six Saturday trainings, do one 12 hour, weekend training for local trainers, set up as a Thursday and Friday Night of 3 hours each and a 6 to 8 hour all day Saturday session. Further training is then not required. This weekend training introduces the NT approach, how to choose and enter a community with an introduction to Asset Mapping. This training allows participants to not only get started but will likely give them enough to do for the next 15 to 18 months.
• NT has developed 12 to 14 modules, of 4 to 6 hours duration each, on topics that are of interest to the local training team. The team chooses the appropriate topics at the appropriate time. These blocks are taught by the champion (the city or church Master Trainer).

Finding People in the Local Churches Who Will be Local Trainers
Church attenders fall into four levels:

• Group 1: People who only want to be ministered to but do little outside the church’s four walls.
• Group 2, doing level: People who are willing to do a one time event outside the church’s walls that requires little time or commitment, generally a group activity requiring no relationship building.
• Group 3, relationship level: People who are willing to make mid level time commitment and develop relationships with others outside the church’s walls.
• Group 4, ownership level: People who are willing to take the lead in serving outside their four walls and become owners of what is happening.

In our experience the people who rise as Local Trainers are primarily from Group 4 with a few from Group three.

Change summary:
• First realize that people fall into these four groups and will only be involved in the level they feel comfortable in. They need to be given opportunities that they can immediately participate in at their level.
• The church needs to put in place an approach that offers opportunities for its members to serve outside the church’ s walls in ways appropriate to each of the three levels. We have developed a four-lesson module that helps the church establish such an approach.

See more next time

Second installment of Using the School to Start Neighborhood Transformation

Written by Brynn Schmidt, Co-leader of the Neighborhood Transformation team at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado.

At Flatiron we have also worked with the elementary school to establish a strong relationship with another organization that our church partners with, the Sister Carmen Community Center. We will begin to work on more projects together next year, as many of the families already use the services or are in need of what the center has to offer. From the Sister Carmen website, “Our services include assistance with food, rent, utilities, transportation, medical care and other basic needs. We also work one on one with individuals and families to assist them in their efforts to reach self sufficiency.” Right now, we are all partnering together to provide snacks for the kindergarten classes on a weekly basis. We are working on ideas to have “weekend food backpacks” as well for next year, where kids can take home food for the weekend, and in return the families can commit to the “Time and Talent” program.

A deeper commitment that some people on our team have made revolves around teaching and helping out with the after school programs. We have had people volunteer and teach English to Spanish speaking parents, and this is a huge time commitment. It is an amazing way to get to know parents and people within the community. We also have a few people that volunteer with the after school program that runs every day. They are working directly for the coordinator of the program, and volunteer on a weekly or monthly basis. The school would love to have some consistent adults that could come every afternoon, but we have not been able to find anyone yet who can do that. We are hoping to get more of our team and church involved with this as it is really open to whatever time people can give, as long as it is on a consistent basis.

We look for people who can teach art, music, homework help, dance, etc. and ask them to just commit to a 4-6 week class period. We have had a couple of people do this, and this is an area we hope to develop much more next year. The coordinator left mid-year and was not in good contact with our volunteers, so we have had to re-start our efforts here. The new director of the program is great and we think that things will go really smoothly next year as we set up some after school classes and more tutoring programs.

We have several other programs/projects that we work on together, and one last project that I would like to share is a unique opportunity for our team. It is the college t-shirt drive. Most of these kids never think about the possibility of attending college. Since one of the most defining statistics for college is that children develop habits of attending school daily; we are trying to encourage them to start thinking about college as a possibility.

It has been an amazing year, with at least 60-70% of the children receiving the school award at least once. We are giving every student in the school a college t-shirt with a diploma type document encouraging them to dream about college based on the success they have had this year.

Our NT team (which is now about 30+ people strong) is collecting t-shirts from friends, community groups, second hand stores and purchasing them for this to happen. We need 385 shirts by May, and we already have over 250. With God’s provision, we are on our way for this to happen at the last assembly of the year.

We continue to move forward and look to the next steps that we can take regarding the Neighborhood Transformation plan. After talking with Stan last month, I believe our next step will start in the fall of 2011. We will work with the staff and determine if we can progress to individual/family asset mapping. This will be our first step in moving from the school out into the community.

The idea is that we can send home questionnaires with the kids to get information from the parents on what is working and not working in their community, and how their assets can contribute to a better community. Stan gave me some ideas on how to approach this and how to get a good response from families. I plan to work through this with our community pastor, NT co-leader, principal and family resource coordinator. From there, we hope to create some neighborhood meetings to move forward.

It has been such a blessing to be welcomed into this school. There is so much more that I could share – especially about how much this school has impacted me personally and changed my life. I am learning so much about serving in my own backyard, but in a completely different setting. There are so many life situations that we do not even think about that affect families in poverty so severely.

One example that comes to mind is that the school has a very hard time with behavioral issues the week before any vacation. This is because school vacations for many of these kids are full of uncertainty, parents working instead of being home, and not enough food to eat because they are usually fed two meals a day at school. While in my home we look forward to these breaks from school to have fun together as family; I had never considered what it was like for children in poverty over the school breaks. I feel that I am a very compassionate person and that I understand a lot about poverty, but there is so much I have not yet learned from books, seminars and even world travel.

These things can only be learned by serving Christ in our own communities and learning about people in different circumstances – and loving all people the way that Jesus would. I still have so much to learn from these amazing children and their families and I am looking forward to what God has in store for these relationships that have been built between our church and community.

Working Through an Elementary School to Start Neighborhood Transformation

Written by Brynn Schmidt, Co-leader of the
Neighborhood Transformation team at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado.

Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado has had a good relationship with one of our neighborhood elementary schools for several years. We have done backpack drives, school improvement days, given funds and assisted occasionally with teacher appreciation and one time events such as field day. This relationship further developed last year when a couple of our pastors and I took a week long, Neighborhood Transformation (NT) training with Stan Rowland. I volunteer at our church in numerous ways and decided to take this training to further my knowledge on local outreach.

At the time, I did not know where God would lead me, but that soon became clear. A couple weeks after the training, our Local Outreach/Community Pastor asked me if I would consider leading our NT team. I prayed about this and felt that God was calling me to lead this with the training that I had received. The most encouraging aspect at this time was that some of our pastors had a great relationship with the principal at this school, so we already had a strong connection. The principal had recently received grant money and was able to hire a family resource coordinator to work at her school. This is where I connected and developed a strong relationship as we started this past school year of 2010-2011.

The harder part about taking on leadership of this team was that there was no team. I was given a list of emails of some people that had helped in the past. However, when I emailed them all to see who would be interested in being a part of our team, I only received some minimal interest from about 3 people. I started meeting with the family resource coordinator to learn more about the school and what programs we could help with. Soon after this, God brought my co-leader to the team through her interest in a totally different area of service. As the staff met with her, they felt that she would be a wonderful person to co-lead with me.

We all met, and she came on board. It is such a blessing to have her lead the team with me, as there was much work to do, and no team yet. Throughout the year, we have received interest from people off of our church website, announcements in our weekend program and a service night at our church. Fortunately, we are part of a very large church, and we have a team list of about 60 people now. I would say the core team that shows up to our meetings is around 30, but we also have others from our list help with events when they can. We also have a list of Spanish speaking people from our church, and any time we need translation help for the school, we go to this list. That is a little background on our team before moving onto the school and our work there.

The family resource coordinator and principal have what would be a simple goal for many schools, but is very difficult at their school – to have kids at school, on time, ready to learn. This school faces many challenges as most of the families live below the poverty line. The school does not have the resources that are available to other schools in our county. The school also deals with a lot of unexcused absences, late arrivals and behavioral problems. Some of the basic challenges facing the school are:
• 85% of the students live below the poverty level
• 2 out of every 10 students qualify for homeless student services
• 50% of the students are learning English as a Second Language
• 25% of the students struggle with transitory issues related to

We started our partnership with some simple programs that the leadership had ideas about incorporating, but could not do without some outside help. Our team has worked with the staff and PTA to accomplish these projects, and we have seen amazing results. This is an amazing community with so many strengths, and we are really seeing the commitment that families have to their school as we move forward.

We created an award program for students who have no absences, no tardy slips and no pink slips for behavioral issues. The awards are given out at assemblies every two months, and the parents are invited to see their children receive the award. They are given a special certificate and a small bag with two healthy snacks, a chapter book and fun pencils and small school supplies. The main goal was simply to get the children to school, on time and ready to learn. Another goal was to increase parent involvement in their children’s education. Amazing results have followed from this one program.
• The school has gone from last place in attendance in Boulder
County to first place in one year’s time (improved by 42%)
• They boast of a 95% attendance record for this year
• Positive behavior at the school has increased by 50% in the
past year
• Parent involvement has increased as parents have stepped into
the school to be involved in their children’s recognition
• Kids are on-time and tardy slips have reduced significantly

A couple of other programs that have been put in place have been working incredibly well too. Our church gives backpacks full of supplies at the beginning of the year for families who cannot afford them. This year, the Family Resource Center set up a “Time and Talent” program for these backpacks. Every family that accepted a backpack, agreed to give two hours of their time back to school in some form of volunteer work. As of January, 100% of parents had completed this commitment.

We set up a clothing closet where parents can come in and get items that they really need for their kids, such as shoes, boots and jackets. The goal of this program is not to just give out items that are needed, but to also give the family resource coordinator time with the parents – to connect with them about their children while they are there. This is another area where parents can give their time and talent in exchange for needed items.

See Installment 2 for spreading Neighborhood Transformation Beyond the School.

From Rural CHE to Urban Neighborhood Transformation

As you hopefully already know, CHE or Neighborhood Transformation (NT) is a multi-faceted, community/neighborhood-based, development strategy that deals with the whole person which builds on the people and their community’s assets. CHE/NT trains people how to use those assets to solve their own problem. It is about neighbor helping neighbor. It releases individuals and communities to be all they can be, by transforming individuals who transform their community from the inside out.

Individuals and rural villages were being transformed by this strategy; therefore it was felt that CHE had potential for use in working with under-resources neighborhoods in urban settings. Three years ago it was decided to see if we could adapt our International rural focused CHE ministry for use with the urban poor in the United States. To this end we began to look at what needed to be changed to adapt CHE for United States consumption.

Identifying and Entering the Urban Community
The biggest problem in doing any Urban CHE or Neighborhood Transformation program is identifying cohesive communities in urban settings that are not really a community as we describe in it rural CHE. The more people hold in common, the greater is their sense of unity. If you can enter their community there is more likelihood of change then in diverse populations. But most geographic neighborhoods do not hold much in common. The question becomes how we can begin to create communities that have something in common.

Mel King’s work in Boston defines creating community as “Where people can live and feel nurtured, sustained, involved and stimulated. Creating community is the continual process of getting to know people, caring and sharing responsibility for the physical and spiritual condition of the living space. He adds we need as individuals and as communities to be about getting people to deal with the fears that immobilize us and bar us from our basic instincts towards growth, change and harmony”

We were introduced to a system that had been developed by Northwestern University called Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) which really deals with the above problems in urban neighborhoods. All people and neighborhoods have assets, identify those assets, network them together, and then build on what is already in the neighborhood and what the people themselves want to do.

In reality, this is what CHE does in rural areas, but we use Participatory Rural Appraisal, (PRA) in entering the community. ABCD takes the place of PRA as it identifies assets in individuals even more than PRA.

ABCD became the main approach for entering the community in urban settings. When we find people who are interested in doing something, we provide small group training for them. This training might include how teenage mothers can have healthy pregnancies, how to get and keep a job, or parenting children.

Urban NT is About Creating Community Instead of Entering an Existing Community
We found in rural CHE that transformation occurs best working with groups of people that were not too large in number, in villages of 1500 to 2000 people. Most cities are much larger but are already divided into neighborhoods. We found the best size neighborhood is built around the catchment area of one elementary school. The elementary especially in poor neighborhoods many times is the geographic center for the neighborhood. In the US we moved from a focus on villages to small identifiable city neighborhoods.

Since there are very few identifiable geographic communities that hold many things in common, as noted above, urban NT is all about finding points of interests held by very small groups of people built their self interests.

In reality we are creating new sub-communities built around people’s interests and assets and then aggregating these small self interest groups into a larger group neighborhood group by doing Appreciative Inquiry which helps people identify the good things that have happened in the past and then coming to a consensus of individual dreams for their neighborhood. The neighborhood then develops a plan to accomplish the thing that the neighborhood wants to accomplish for their neighborhood.